San Francisco is a wonderful city, with plenty to offer everyone from gastronomes to boulevardiers to barflies. That, at least, is what I am told. Myself, I couldn’t possibly comment, because in my stay there I was too busy playing with all the remote-controlled stuff in our room at the St Regis. The hotel itself is brilliantly situated a crab’s scuttle away from Market Street and the Embarcadero by the bay, but, again, I bring you news of its stellar location courtesy of Mrs Smith. I might as well have been in downtown Addis Ababa for all it meant to me: the room at the St Regis was so laden with gizmos that it seemed churlish to waste time actually walking anywhere.
Tech-wise, a bedroom at the St Regis is pretty much the GTi of boudoirs: remote-controlled curtains, automatic lights, 21st-century entertainment system. The only things missing are robots – instead, you get a butler, whose primary function is to explain how the rest of it all works.
The hub of the wizardry is a bedside touchscreen console, which they call a GDA. I have no idea what that stands for, but suffice to say that without even sitting up, and with just the tenderest flick of your pinkie, you can fade the lights, close the blinds, call room service, fire up the plasma, order a movie, summon the butler, check-out, book a massage, set up a wake-up call… Just about everything short of getting K9 to bring you your slippers. Traditionalists and Luddites may question the usefulness of all of this, but touchscreen remote-control anything is good news in my book. The St Regis comes fully pimped.
Luckily for an increasingly irascible Mrs Smith (‘But darling, see how the blinds go up, blinds go down… Blinds go up…’) the St Regis has plenty more to offer than just technology. In a city where countless stylish urban hideaways compete for space, service matters, and at the St Regis it begins before you even get there – I received an email from the hotel’s Guest Historian (ridiculous name; neat idea) in the week leading up to our arrival with an advanced welcome, directions and requests for any special requirements.
It got better – a few minutes after our bags had been dropped off, along came that much-vaunted butler. Not quite Jeeves in his scope or capabilities, but just what you need in rooms that have been beamed back from 2098, and as first-timers in San Francisco, a useful sounding board for places to visit. He was there when we left as well, and even came up with a couple of suggestions for other rooms we might like should we return. All of which increases the chances that we will return.
When it came to eating out, there are so many reasonably priced, carefully sourced eateries in San Francisco that it felt morally indefensible to stay in the hotel for food (even in spite of the fact that, yes, I could order room service from the GDA). We did sample breakfast at the St Regis on one occasion, at the fourth-floor restaurant Vitrine, which boasts a huge roof terrace looking out over downtown. So proud were they of the house granola that they even gave us a grab bag or two to take home, and I can report that it tastes just as good second time round. In fact I’m eating some right now.
Having spent far too long either ensconced in our room or gorging on Bay Area produce, we found ourselves enrapt with the customary delusion that a swim and a Jacuzzi could help counteract several days of melted cheese, so we headed to the spa and pool. Gratifyingly, you could actually swim in the infinity pool – not always the case on the West Coast – and the spa contained all the usual steam rooms, Jacuzzis and staff dressed in crisp white, plus some lesser-spotted, but equally important touches such as full disabled access.
Downstairs in the lobby bar later we nursed flagons of Pinot and became increasingly entranced by the giant free-floating fireplace that makes the entire hotel – all 20 floors of it, with residences on top – look like it’s being gently barbecued. Then, with some reluctance on my part, we headed out in to the night. A courtesy car was a nice touch, making an already eminently manageable city even more so. But as we tucked in to the greatest Mexican meal I have ever eaten (at a place called Mamacita in the Marina district, where they serve enchiladas that could start a revolution), I found myself feeling slightly all at sea. Without my GDA by my side, how would I function? I mean, how else was I going to summon my butler?